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Gonzaga Basketball

‘We got the job done’: Gonzaga thumps Portland 86-65, turns attention to rematch with Santa Clara

PORTLAND – The latest victory in Gonzaga’s five-game winning streak looked a lot like the first four.

Junior post Graham Ike controlled the lane and led the Bulldogs with 20 points, his fourth consecutive game with at least 20. The starting five posted solid numbers, including Nolan Hickman’s four 3-pointers and 19 points, and Ben Gregg, a prep standout at Clackamas High about 20 miles down the road, added three 3s and 13 points, all in the first half.

The offense, averaging 94.5 points in the previous four games, kept on rolling. The defense was strong in the first half as Gonzaga built a comfortable lead and helped thwart a brief Portland comeback in the closing half. The Zags dominated on the boards and in the paint.

Gonzaga never trailed and led by double figures most of the way while handling the Pilots 86-65 Thursday at the Chiles Center.

“We got the job done, that’s pretty much all that matters,” Hickman said. “We were just trying to get to the Santa Clara game (Saturday), some vengeance (after falling 77-76 to the Broncos in January).”

The Zags (21-6, 11-2 West Coast Conference) maintained their hold on second place, two games behind Saint Mary’s. Portland (9-20, 3-11) has dropped five in a row.

Gonzaga raced in front 11-3 and led 16-5 in the first 6 minutes. The margin reached 16 on Gregg’s third 3-pointer before Portland closed within 43-30 at halftime.

“Those first 4 minutes are critical, even in both halves, just to set the tone of the game,” Ike said. “We always want to start out with great energy, great effort and let the opposing team know that we’re here.”

It was more of the same in the second half as Gonzaga made 10 of its first 13 shots and stretched the lead to 19 on Hickman’s 3-pointer with 11:46 remaining.

Portland pulled within 14, but two Anton Watson field goals and another by Ike pushed Gonzaga’s lead to 20 with 2:58, sending many fans toward the exits.

“I feel like we’re trending in the right direction,” said Watson, who battled foul trouble along with Braden Huff and Gregg. “The offense is really good. Defensively, we have to get a couple more stops and sometimes stop the bleeding when (other teams) go on runs, but everything else has been good.”

Ike equaled his season high with 14 rebounds, leading GU to a 50-29 advantage on the glass.

“As a collective, we do expect to come in here and do what we did,” Ike said. “Individually, I didn’t get to play as much in the last game (versus Portland) because of foul trouble, so there was a little extra stuff for me.”

The Zags collected 15 offensive boards and a 15-10 edge in second-chance points. They had at least three possessions with three shot attempts.

Gonzaga guard Nolan Hickman celebrates after scoring against Portland during the second half of Thursday’s West Coast Conference game at the Chiles Center in Portland.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga guard Nolan Hickman celebrates after scoring against Portland during the second half of Thursday’s West Coast Conference game at the Chiles Center in Portland. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

“If we’re playing three bigs (Ike, Watson and Gregg), we have to pound them on the glass,” Gregg said. “Coach (Few) always tells us that. Graham was taking all mine today so my numbers weren’t as good, but we’ve been doing a good job. Santa Clara kind of blasted us (rebounding) the last time played them, so it’s definitely something we have to work on and be ready for on Saturday.”

Portland did a better job defending the 3-point line, but Hickman and Gregg still combined for seven of the Zags’ eight 3-pointers. The Zags posted a season-high 15 3s in a 96-64 win two weeks ago as well as season highs with 18 and 17 the previous two seasons.

The Zags made the shorter Pilots pay inside with a 48-28 advantage in paint points, led by Ike and Watson, and 11 fastbreak points. Point guard Ryan Nembhard was a key factor in those categories with his stat line: eight points, seven rebounds, seven assists and zero turnovers in 38 minutes.

“Nembhard was great again,” said Gonzaga coach Mark Few, who improved to 45-2 against the Pilots in his 25 seasons. “There was a lot of switching and different coverages and he managed it perfectly.”

The Zags connected on 50.7% from the field, their 10th time above 50% in the past 14 games. They handed out 21 assists, their sixth game with at least 20.

“These guys are doing a great job throughout this whole thing of just taking care of business with the next one,” Few said. “Santa Clara is the next one up.”

Senior Tyler Robertson, who played two years at Eastern Washington before transferring, led Portland with 18 points, but the Pilots made only 37% of their shots. They hurt themselves at the foul line, making 11 of 21.